Friday, October 19, 2012

Knights of Columbus Back in News: $15.8 Million Spent Since 2005 to Strip Gays of Civil Rights

Earlier in the week, I excerpted observations from Joanna Brooks's The Book of Mormon Girl: A Memoir of an American Faith (NY: Free Press, 2012) in which Brooks notes (p. 174) that the fight to snatch the civil right of marriage from gay citizens of California cost $82 million.  Brooks points out that this is the largest amount of money spent to date on a culture-war issue in the U.S.

She also notes that her Mormon community collectively contributed at least half of the money used to take the civil right of marriage away from gay citizens of California.  As she also notes, some 5,000 children die daily of diarrhea around the world, and $82 million could buy nearly one billion oral rehydration packets, which would be sufficient to help save the lives of every child in the world with diarrhea for a decade.  

What Joanna Brooks doesn't discuss in The Book of Mormon Girl is that, in addition to the LDS church, another major contributor to the campaign to remove the right of civil marriage from gay Californians was the Catholic church--specifically, its U.S. fraternal organization the Knights of Columbus.  The Knights of Columbus gave over $1 million to the battle to remove the right of civil marriage from gay citizens of California in the prop 8 battle.  This was the largest donation given by a single group to the battle to pass proposition 8.

For some time now, it's been widely reported (e.g., by Nicole Sotelo at National Catholic Reporter) that an increasingly large proportion of the budget of this fraternal organization that has historically been known for its assistance to those in need is now going to support conservative political initiatives, notably the fight against the civil rights of gay and lesbian Americans.   In September 2010, Timothy Kincaid reported at Box Turtle Bulletin that of $34.6 million that the K of C Supreme Council spent in 2009, only $3 million was expended for works of mercy.  Kincaid notes that in 2009, the Knights provided $8 million for the needs of the hierarchy, $5 million for their K.C. museum, $3 million for evangelization, but over $6 million to “family life” and “pro-life” programs.  The latter included $4.7 million for anti-gay and $1.9 million for anti-abortion political advocacy.

When the Minnesota Catholic bishops mailed an expensive anti-gay marriage video to every Catholic household in that state on the eve of the 2010 gubernatorial election (in which only one candidate, Republican Tom Emmer, made an issue of gay marriage), the Knights of Columbus were heavily involved in the production and mailing of this video, according to Nicole Sotelo and other reporters.  As Sotelo notes, the DVD sent out to Catholics around the state by Minnesota's bishops "was not merely a faith-based educational video sent to the faithful but rather a politically-influenced campaign tool supported by NOM and the Knights of Columbus . . . ."

As various reporters have also noted, under their current Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson, the Knights have become virtually indistinguishable from a pro-Republican political lobby masquerading as a faith-based charitable group.  Supreme Knight Anderson served in the Reagan administration and was a legislative assistant for controversial right-wing Republican senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina, and he has led the way in converting the Knights from a charitable organization to a political lobbying group.

I note all of this information this morning--information I've noted on this blog previously--because the Knights and their attempt to turn the U.S. Catholic church into a Republican anti-gay political machine (and their skyrocketing use of funds to this end) are back in the news again.  As Peter Montgomery indicates at Religion Dispatches yesterday, the group Equally Blessed has just released a report which documents the extent to which the Knights of Columbus is now a pro-Republican, anti-gay political machine in coalition with the National Organization for Marriage, an organization that the New York Times has characterized as politically poisonous due to its avowed intent to drive wedges between the African-American and gay communities in the attempt to strip the latter of civil rights (see also here).

Here's Peter Montgomery's summary of the report just issued by Equally Blessed:

"The Strong Right Arm of the Bishops: The Knights of Columbus and Anti-Marriage Equality Funding," documents $6.25 million in direct Knights funding to anti-marriage equality campaigns at the national level and in a dozen states since 2005—and another $9.6 million to organizations that are working "to build a conservative religious and political culture to oppose efforts for marriage equality." According to the report, among the biggest recipients of Knights funding are NOM ($1.9 million) and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops ($1.2 million). The report does not include figures for 2011 because the Knights delayed filing its tax reporting for 2011 until after the November 2012 elections. 
In 2006, the Knights distributed 10 million postcards through state and local councils for Catholics to send senators in support of a proposed anti-marriage-equality amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In 2008 it gave $1.1 million to pass Proposition 8 in California. But you’d be hard-pressed to find evidence of the millions in anti-gay spending on the organization’s website, which highlights contributions to groups like Habitat for Humanity and the Special Olympics. Buried in the section on service is language about the fact that the family is under "heavy attack" and that the organization can help defend it, but there is no hint of the scope of anti-gay work the group is funding.

And so the chart at the head of this posting, which comes from Adam Polaski at Freedom to Marry's website, and which Dan Savage features today in a posting entitled, "Sorry, Kid, That Wheelchair Will Have to Wait": as Slog tipster Mark who sent the chart about the Knight's misuse of funds given by lay Catholics for charitable and not political purposes says, "And people ask me why I've not stepped foot in a church since Christmas Eve 1993, save for one memorial in a Unitarian Church in 1996."

And I absolutely agree.  On the two trips Steve and I have made to Minnesota in the last two years to visit his family there, I've seen signs advertising Knights of Columbus fundraising dinners at parish after parish in small Minnesota towns.  I've known as I saw these signs that the good Catholics attending these K.C fundraising events have no inkling at all of how the money they're helping the Knights raise is being used.  I've suspected many of the Catholics in Minnesota who are being led to imagine that they're giving money to the needy by supporting the Knights would be grieved to learn that their donations are being used to strip rights from a targeted minority community.

And as a result, I feel an increasing distance from--even outright revulsion for--my Catholic church.  And I fully understand the choice of people like Dan Savage's tipster Mark not to darken the door of a church that can behave in this dishonorable and mean-spirited way towards a vulnerable group of human beings.

And I remain more than a little disturbed by the mendacious attempt of National Catholic Reporter's cheerleader for the hierarchy, Michael Sean Winters, to compare what the Catholic bishops are doing to their gay brothers and sisters with the collusion of the Knights of Columbus to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.

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